When I tell people I perform under the name Neon and Shy, I often get a perplexed expression in response. I’m often asked if there’s a second band member (one named “Neon” and one named “Shy”), and I have to explain that they are adjectives rather than names. Inevitably, I get the response “I understand the neon part. But you’re up there on the stage singing, bantering with the audience, and laughing; you’re not shy.” It is seemingly difficult to reconcile public self-expression with introvertedness. And yet, here we are.
While I’m on stage, I’m buoyed by a combination of exhilaration, fearlessness, and the immense power of holding a microphone (seriously, watch children play with microphones; their demeanor transforms before your eyes). Offstage, I’m much more timid. Often the first thing I want to do after leaving the stage is hide in the green room by myself for a bit. I appreciate the adulation when I get it although sometimes it’s uncomfortable to hear. I’m often ready to become a “civilian” again.
Yesterday I went to see Carol Jantsch, Principle Tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, premiere a tuba concerto by Michael Daugherty with the Temple University Symphony Orchestra. Her playing was absolutely gorgeous, and it was a real treat to hear her play. Afterwards I met up with two tubist colleagues who suggested we go backstage and say hi. Now, I had never met Carol before, despite our having friends in common and at least one major interest in common. Upon arriving backstage, the too twobists I knew greeted her and offered congratulations. I really wanted to give my compliments and introduce myself, but I couldn’t bring myself to. Perhaps it was that she already had a crowd around her congratulating her and I wanted to give space. Perhaps it was that her parents were there and I didn’t want to get in the way of the personal moment. But the truth is I just felt too shy to introduce myself. And sadly the moment passed.
Sometimes my shyness comes in the form of timidity. Recently I was in the process of booking a new band of mine called Polkadelphia. I was asked for a bio, and quickly whipped this together:
A tuba, trombone, trumpet, and accordion walked into a bar lamenting the lack of fresh approaches in the genre of polka. Two rounds and one passionate conversation later, Polkadelphia was born. Not your ordinary oompah band, Polkadelphia plays classic German brass band tunes with a modern flair, while also incorporating artists you never expected to hear, such as Radiohead, the Beatles, and the Muppet Show. Whether rocking out at the local biergarden or strolling through the bustling tents at Oktoberfest they always bring the haus down!
I sent it out to the booker, but couldn’t avoid adding in a little postscript: “Let me know if this is too cheesy.” About 10 minutes later I started regretting writing it. Because if it was too cheesy, it wasn’t for this booker to determine. It was for me as the author and bandleader to decide (and the people who read it and decided to come or not to come). I felt like I had undermined my professionality by questioning my word choice and tone in front of the person who was hiring me. I had gotten this far in the booking by exuding confidence in what I was doing. I found myself wishing I had taken ownership of the situation.
It’s interesting, because the act of owning the moment is what allows me to be charismatic and, ahem, neon on the stage. I’d love to be able to apply it to other area of my life less self-consciously. When I spent time on the road touring, we used to do it all the time. The band I toured with was excellent at bluffing their way to better gigs, better hotel rooms, and better food.
I’ll never forget the day we came upon a Panera that was about to open. The night we got there, it was a special event just for family members of employees. The idea was that the new employees could practice their cashiering and food preparation before they opened to the public. So when we arrived, someone asked us at the door if we were a family member of an employee. One quick yes later, and we were given $20 in credit to buy whatever we wanted.
That example might be pushing it a bit. After all, I did feel bad about the deception of it. I don’t want things that I don’t deserve. However, am I someone who deserves the right to meet other pro tuba players? Why not? And do I have the right to describe my band the way I want to? Of course! It goes beyond “rights” too; it is a part of what makes me the unique person that I am. I need to keep remembering that as I continue to delve into a career that requires me to put myself out there more and more. It’s good for me to put a little more neon into the shy.